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#pounditThursday, October 29, 2020

10 MLB rookies having a big impact this season

Chris Paddack

Each MLB season brings a new crop of rookies to excite and intrigue fans across the sport. Some are highly-touted, while others are further off the radar and may even be journeymen. Even those who have completely conquered the minor leagues can have some initial trouble adapting to the highest level of competition, so rookies that do storm out of the gates successfully deserve plenty of plaudits.

Here are ten players with rookie status in 2019 who are having a big impact so far this season.

10. Christian Walker, 1B, Diamondbacks

Walker retains his rookie status, but he had MLB experience before 2019. In parts of four seasons dating all the way back to 2014, he had hit just .170 in several brief stints. In 2019 with Arizona, things have been completely different. The first baseman has been a surprising power source for the Diamondbacks, sitting among the team leaders in home runs well into May while hitting just shy of .300 and drawing plenty of walks. Not bad for a 28-year-old rookie.

9. Mike Soroka, SP, Braves

The highly-touted top 100 prospect flashed promise in five starts for the Braves in 2018, and arrived a bit late in 2019 with something to prove. The 21-year-old Canadian has been incredible for Atlanta to start the season, posting a sub-2 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning and simply not allowing home runs. He looks to have forced his way into the Atlanta rotation to stay — after all, in his first five starts of 2019, he didn’t allow more than one earned run in any of them.

8. Michael Chavis, 2B, Red Sox

Losing the likes of Dustin Pedroia to injury would be a major blow for most teams, but the Boston Red Sox are not most teams. In stepped Chavis, who made his MLB debut on April 20 and hasn’t really slowed down since. Chavis has hit for power, but it’s his impressive on-base skills that have really opened eyes, as he’s maintained an OBP over .400 in his first month in the majors. It doesn’t look like he has any designs on letting the job go anytime soon.

7. Marcus Walden, RP, Red Sox

Craig Kimbrel’s departure left the Boston bullpen in flux this offseason, and it was a bullpen that wasn’t even perfect in the middle innings when he was closing, either. Enter Walden, a 30-year-old rookie who has suddenly become a key part of the Red Sox bullpen. Walden is frequently tasked with going multiple innings to get the ball to the back end of the Boston ‘pen, and with a sub-2 ERA and over a strikeout an inning, he’s been so successful that his responsibilities keep increasing. He could be a hugely unexpected cog in Boston’s season going forward.

6. John Means, SP, Orioles

Little was expected of the Orioles this season, and that’s still true a month and a half in. You don’t have to look far to find a surprising bright spot, though. Means, a 26-year-old, entered the rotation belatedly and immediately became Baltimore’s best starter, posting a sub-3 ERA after moving out of his swingman role. Means doesn’t post the flashiest stats, but since becoming a starter, he has simply gotten the job done.

5. Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers

Verdugo has long been touted as a top prospect, but given how deep the Dodgers’ roster usually is in the outfield, he hasn’t really been able to get consistent reps at the MLB level. In 2019, he has essentially forced his way into the lineup and dared the Dodgers to take him out. Hitting well over .300 with extra base power, Verdugo has claimed a lineup spot as his own, and his defensive versatility means the Dodgers can move him between center and right as needed and keep his bat in the lineup.

4. Brandon Lowe, 2B, Rays

Lowe has never been a fixture in top prospect lists since being drafted in 2015, but he’s quickly proving to be another success for a Rays organization that has been adept at scouting and developing talent. Primarily a second baseman, Lowe has shown the versatility to play in both the infield and outfield. He hits, too, hitting six home runs before the end of April and continuing to flash extra base power. The Rays look like legitimate contenders, and Lowe is a big reason behind that.

3. Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets

Alonso had a great spring training, and the Mets were merciful enough to reward him for it with a roster spot instead of playing the service time game. In turn, it was the Mets that were richly rewarded. Alonso claimed NL Rookie of the Month honors for April after launching nine home runs, and his power has not slowed down in May. He is quickly showing that he has the talent to blossom into one of the NL’s premier power hitters — he may already be.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres

Like Alonso, there was a fear that the Padres would keep Tatis in the minors to start the season to buy an extra year of team control. Ultimately, they opted to bring their best 25 players into the regular season with them, and Tatis has shown that he is very much deserving of that roster spot. He’s close to a .300 hitter at just 20 years old, and while he still has room to grow, he’s flashed power as well, plus the ability to steal a base. Strikeouts have to be cut down, but Tatis is showing five tools at a very young age, and his future is incredibly bright.

1. Chris Paddack, SP, Padres

Paddack was starting to emerge as a top prospect prior to the start of the 2019 season, but few would have seen him performing this well so quickly. The Padres pitcher spent the first month of the season borderline unhittable, with a WHIP well below one and an ERA below 2. He’s even shown a somewhat confrontational attitude that will serve him well as he drives himself to improve. At just 23, the Padres have an ace on their hands, and a pitcher who will merit Cy Young consideration if he keeps it up, much less Rookie of the Year recognition.

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